Friday, 1 July 2016

Pinterest: Cataloguing the World

A Digital World.

Museums, Universities and Art Galleries around the world are engaged in digitising their collections. This gives unprecedented access for the public to view images and artefacts which previously were only available to those who could travel or academics.

I have always been fascinated by the legends of King Arthur and how the stories are embedded into the landscape in the UK. I used to give talks and lectures. I travelled throughout the UK to take photographs of landscapes connected to the King Arthur legends.  To illustrate my talks, I used these photographs but I also wanted some old illustrations.

The Bodleian Library at Oxford University has a magnificent collection of medieval manuscripts. All those years ago, it was not possible to view them in advance. I had to depend upon the catalogue description.  Then a form had to be completed and a cheque sent to get rolls of 35mm films showing some of the illustrations. The frames of the films could be cut up and mounted to be shown as slides. Here are three of the canisters and films that I purchased..

Some of my collection of Arthurian images from the Bodleian Library

How difficult it was.  Nowadays these images are available at the click of a mouse!  The problem now is how to keep track of different images in a logical way.

Over to Pinterest.   I love Pinterest.  The numerous images found on the Web can now easily be stored in a personal account.  Folders in your personal account can be public or private.  It is a visual bookmarking tool, not only for pictures as even videos can be stored. The original location of the image is stored with it so it is easy to go back to the original source.

With Pinterest, any niche interest can be catalogued and your own folder can be a source of inspiration for others.  Links can made between people with the same interests and resources can be added to your own stock of images from other peoples public folders.

I love weaving and I have always been fascinated by the images of early weaving.  At last there is a way to put all the images I have found into one place. The links to the original web site are there so I can follow up my search by looking for similar images in the original database.

For examples, medieval weaving techniques are illustrated in a variety of illuminated books in libraries around the world.  Now that libraries are digitising their images, it is possible to compare the weaving equipment used. It is like wandering through gardens of bright images!

Linking the past and present.

Medieval illustrations may not be entirely accurate but can be useful in showing how equipment was used. For researchers they are a mine of information. It is only now that these images in museums, art galleries, and Universities around the world can be easily retrieved and compared.

Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg,
Cod. Pal. germ. 848 Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift (Codex Manesse)
(Zürich, ca. 1300 bis ca. 1340
Take this image of a rigid heddle. It is the only medieval image that I have seen of a floor stand with a rigid heddle.  It is from a manuscript dated around  1300 to 1340.

I saw this image for the first time in a black and white line drawing in a book about tablet weaving. Seeing it in its original colours makes the equipment easier to understand. At the front of the picture a man is putting his hand up the skirt of a weaver who is about to hit him very hard with her weaving beater. However, ignore the humour and look at the image of the weaving equipment.

close up of the floor rigid heddle and back strap.

Here you can clearly see the woven part of the band, which has been decorated with a series of crosses.  On a number of illustrations of weaving, the woven cloth is often depicted with a pattern. The woven band is wrapped around a bracket at the side of the picture which may be part of a back strap. The warp ends in the rigid heddle are shown threaded through the slots and the holes.

The unwoven warp is clearly depicted as separate warp ends. Then on the the warp there is a five sided piece of equipment with six holes in it.  This may be a warp spacer but I have not seen one this shape.  Some tablet weaving looms of this period have a horizontal spacer to keep the warp ends from being tangled and to flatten out the warp for easier weaving. Look at my collection of images on my Pinterest page to see further examples.

The tall rigid heddle on a stand.

Here is a similar rigid heddle on a stand from the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts.  There are two box looms next to it.
Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts, USA
This design of floor rigid heddle loom is not common in museums. The box loom with a fixed or moveable rigid heddle is more common.

For the floor stand and heddle, the warp could be stretched between two posts and the weaver could sit sideways to weave.  However, it is more usual for the weaver to have one end of the warp attached to a belt so that it could be 'weaver tensioned.'

The beater

In the medieval illustration, the women weaver has a weaving sword used as beater and also to help separate the warp in order to pass the weft through the shed. It would also be capable of quite a solid blow!

I have a wooden beater  similar to the one in the illustration.  It was given to me by an elderly weaver and I treasure it. It is not very heavy It weighs only 3.5 ozs but it is very strong. I polished it until it was smooth. I do not know how old it is.

Warp spacer

I have not been able to trace anything like the circular warp spacer. I have not yet tried to use a spacer when weaving narrow bands with a backstrap but I think that it would be useful to try.

The only circular object that I know about is one to weave a tubular band and comes from Lithuania. This rather poor quality picture is of a round wooden disc with thirteen wool warp threads and a central core yarn to strengthen the tubular band. The tubular cord is woven with a shuttle. It comes from Aukstaitija from the early 20th century.  This cannot be the circular disc in the medieval illustration. 

Round heddle with central core thread and shuttle from Lithuania.

The Medieval Box loom with a rigid heddle.

In medieval images, the usual image of a rigid heddle is one that is used in a small box loom.
Here is a typical box loom.

Eny Newe Kunstlick Moetdelboech: P Quentel, Cologne 1532 Metropolitan Museum of Art

The lady at the bottom left of the picture is seated at a table with a small box loom and rigid heddle. The heddle is free standing and sits on the warp.  The weaver has to raise and lower the heddle with one hand to make the two sheds necessary for weaving. In her right hand she is holding a shuttle.

Here is a close up of the image.

Close up of the box loom, rigid heddle and shuttle.  

The box loom has a warp beam on one end. The unwoven warp is wound around a lower beam so that a long band can be woven.

Here is my own box loom with a free standing rigid heddle.

A modern box loom for weaving narrow bands.

Look again at the main picture. The lady on the right is sitting almost inside a loom.  The warp is stretched across the loom horizontally in front of here and she has the free standing rigid heddle in one hand ready to lift or lower to make the shed.

Another box loom.

Here is another close up image of a box loom and a rigid heddle. Again the rigid heddle is free standing. 

Eny Newe Kunstlick Moetdelboech: P Quentel, Cologne 1532

Yet another box loom and large rigid heddle loom

There is another illustration of the large loom where the warp is stretched horizontally in front of the weaver. It is difficult to see but there is a circular 'warp spacer' on the weavers left side.  The person who engraved this image has not fully understood where the warp goes on the loom.

Ein New Modelbuch: Zwickau 1524
The man on the right has a large box loom which appears to be sloping upwards.  In the box loom are shuttles.  The unwoven warp is wound around a warp beam at the back and there are butterflies of yarn underneath. This would appear to be a more accurate picture of a loom.

A Tablet Weaving Mystery.

There are also many images of tablet weaving. The source of this medieval picture is not known.  For details see Arachne's Blog   If you find the original, do let me know.

Bow shaped tablet weaving loom

Look at the bow shaped tablet weaver in the left hand of the picture. This is the only image I have been able to find of this type of loom.

Here is a close up.

Close up of medieval portable tablet weaving loom

The medieval tablet weaver has the unwoven warp nearest to her.  The woven part of the band is on the furthest end of the loom, indicated by cross hatching on the woven band. The beater is placed to beat away from the weaver. This is not the usual way of weaving nowadays.  However, on warp weighted looms the tablet woven borders were always woven in this fashion, with the weft being beaten into place with an upwards movement.

Here is a modern version of the curved loom, although the weaver has not been weaving in the same way as the medieval image.

The original image was on Flickr but the link is no longer valid.

In the northern Sami community in Sweden, patterned bands are still woven in this manner by some weavers.  Here is an image taken from Vav Magasinet showing a weaver with the unwoven warp attached to her waist and the rigid heddle nearest to her body.  She raises and lowers the heddle and beats the weft in so that the woven part of the band is furthest away.  Of course this has many advantages.  The backstrap weaver does not need to stretch the full length of the warp when weaving.  For a tablet weaver, having the unwoven warp attached to the belt means that any overtwist can easily be adjusted when additional warp is needed.

Vav Magasinet 4/11 page 40

In the book Duodji Árbi Arvet:  Handicraft in the Sámi Culture, 2006, Sameslöjdstiftelsen Sámi Duodj, the suggestion is made that in the north of Sweden, this older weaving technique was maintained; this older technique being influenced by warp weighted loom weaving where beating the weft into place is done be beating away from the weaver. 

Bow shaped loom for a rigid heddle.

The medieval picture of a portable bow shaped loom for weaving with tablets is fascinating and as far as I know, unique. It appears to be tucked under the weavers left arm.

However, a painting from 1905 shows a young girl using a portable bow shaped loom with a rigid heddle.  She is weaving as she walks as well as looking after sheep and cattle, a good example of multi-tasking!

Here is a close up of the girl.

Young Girl Weaving. by Carl Larsson 1905
detail of the loom

I have not seem any other example of this type of loom.  There does not seem to be any in museums in Scandinavia although I might be mistaken. Museums do not have all varieties of looms and simple rustic looms like this one may be overlooked.

 I would love to try this type of loom.  I wonder how it is fixed into her belt?

Has anyone seen a curved portable rigid heddle loom like the one in the painting?

A Warp Band Lock.

When weaving narrow bands using my backstrap, I use a band lock.  This is not a new invention.

Here is my band lock.
My modern band lock.  The hooks clip onto the band around my waist.

An ancient Etruscan version

Here is an ancient Etruscan version.  It consists of two identical metal plates with a curved end.  The warp ends or the woven part of the band goes around the plates.  The string back-strap is wrapped around the band lock and is hooked around the curved ends. This holds the warp in place so that it does not slip. The weaving is tensioned by the weaver leaning backwards or forwards.

My drawing of the Etruscan band lock 

Here is a my drawing of a reconstructed Etruscan warp lock taken from the book given below.

 Lise Ræder Knudsen: The Tablet-woven Borders of Verucchio. In: Margarita Gleba and Ulla Mannering, Textiles and Textile Production in Europe from Prehistory to AD 400. Oxford 2012. 254-263.

  Lise Ræder Knudsen kindly gave permission for the photograph to be used in my blog.  Her article has a wealth of information about tablet woven borders showing the spacer and spools:
The Tablet-woven Borders of Verucchio. In: Margarita Gleba and Ulla Mannering, Textiles and Textile Production in Europe from Prehistory to AD 400. Oxford 2012. 254-263.  The picture is at page 261.

See also: Textile Production in Pre-Roman Italy by Margarita Gleba, 2008, Oxbow Books. page 151.   There are other drawings of similar Etruscan band locks in the book.

  Lise Raeder Knudsen has a wonderful web site about tablet weaving at

The assumption here is that the weaver would have the woven end of the warp through the band lock. However, there are no images of the Etruscan warp lock in use.

In Etruscan graves, bobbins and warp spacers were found.  The warp spacers are narrow rectangular objects with a series of holes. They are used to keep warp ends from tangling.  It could be possible to have a back strap tied with loose warp ends which then pass through a warp spacer and then the tablets. It would enable the weaver to untwist the warp ends from the tablets in a more convenient way. This method would need to be tried to see if it would work efficiently.

Comparing the medieval images of tablet weaving shows that that there are differences in the way the weaver places herself in relation to the warp.

Netherlands 1460
 Ludwig of Saxony 1490

The image on the left is from the  University of Glasgow and shows the beater and woven warp on the right.   The image on the right shows the woven warp and beater on the left (from the viewpoint of the weaver).

 For the full description of the images go to my Pinterest site.

If these two images are accurate,  they show that the weaver can weave by beating to the right, away from her or by beating on the left with the right hand so beating across her body.  Check out my collection of medieval tablet weaving images on Pinterest and you can see the differences.

A warp weighted loom with a tablet woven border.

Look at this picture of a warp weighted loom which I took in the Tuchmacher Museum in Bramsche, Germany some years ago.

Tablet woven border on the right hand side.

The tablet woven border has the woven part of the edging above the tablets so that the weaver beats the weft upwards. The unwoven part of the cloth is at the bottom. The unwoven warp ends for the border are wound onto smaller bobbins.
It is easy to see how when using a back strap the same position for weaving could be chosen.  Beating the weft away from the weaver and having the unwoven part of the warp nearest to the weaver.

Herodotus was a Greek historian born around 484 BCE.  He compares the Egyptian and Greek method of weaving in the following passage:

'…but the Egyptians in their manners and customs seem to have reversed the ordinary practices of mankind. For instance, women attend the market and are employed in trade, while men stay at home and do the weaving.  In weaving, the normal way is to work the threads of the weft upwards, but the Egyptians work them downwards.'   

Herodotus, The Histories, 2:35

Herodotus saw the normal way of weaving as working the weft upwards. This may also apply to tablet woven bands even when woven as a narrow band not just as a side border on a warp weighted loom.  The Egyptians were more technologically advanced as they used a ground loom with heddles and a heddle rod and spacer and an upright loom which had a warp and a weft beam with  heddles and a heddle rod.   Both these types of looms develop into the modern loom.

The warp weighted loom exists in a technological cul-de-sac as it is not capable of developing by increments into a more efficient way of weaving. However, tablet weaving is intimately connected to the warp weighted loom.  Unlike other forms of cloth making, such as sprang, it never developed independently outside of the warp weighted loom areas.

A loom mystery.

Here is another picture of a type of table loom. Unfortunately, no-one seems to know the book in which it was published nor the origin of the image. The book is in English as there is a part of the text visible at the top right hand corner. It looks like a medieval image rather than an artists impression.

Do you know where this picture comes from? The visible text is in English
so it has been used as an illustration in a book.

Take a closer look at the lady sitting at the table.

Is this an early depiction of an inkle loom?
Her left hand appears to be in the shed - the space in between the raised and lowered warp threads.  In her right hand there is an implement.  Is it a beater or shuttle?  It is hard to see.

The warp threads are shown as being separated into two layers.  The top layer appears to go over a peg on a post. Is this a depiction of an early type of inkle loom?  It is very frustrating not knowing where this image can be found as a clearer picture may answer some of these questions.


It is fascinating to see how ancient looms were depicted.  These images deserve to be examined more closely and compared to modern counterparts. Some surprising similarities and differences may emerge.

If you want to see more images, do check out my Pinterest site.  One image can lead to another one on someone else's pin board. I am sure that you will love the search. Enjoy your own wander through 'a garden of bright images'.

And a big thank you all the Museums, Universities and Galleries who are taking the time to digitise their collections and to Pinterest for providing a way for people with similar interests to share their finds. 

Susan J Foulkes   July 2016


  1. Fascinating!!Thank you for sharing these treasures with us and your knowledge and enthusiasm.

  2. Thanks for such a rich historical post! What great images. The bow shaped portable loom in the Carl Larsson painting is really intriguing, and so tantalizingly recent to have disappeared without a trace! I have no insight into the loom of the last image, but I can't help suspecting the image is a 1950's or so close re-working of an original. An art expert would be able to tell... the facial details and shading esp of the woman on the right have a '50's-ish rather than medieval feel to me. Another clue might be the drawn, "hatching" type shading of the garments - I wonder if that type of drawn shading was used along with colors/ ie painting in medieval times? It seems more like a black-and-white drawing and printing technique from those times, but this is just a vague impression of mine, not actual knowledge. Would be great if someone could find the original image.

  3. Thanks for your comments Ingrid. The image on the early inkle type loom is from the 15th century. I will do a follow up blog as so many people have been interested in this area and sent me additional information.

    Happy weaving


    1. I forgot to mention that no-one seems to have additional information about the portable bow loom from 1905.

  4. I really enjoyed this post. I know a lot of work went into it and I appreciate it! It's amazing that there is a picture of the portable bow loom from only 1905 and no one has more info on it. It's not that long ago! You'd think it would stick around but I guess that's how it goes with a lot of things. Thanks again!


All comments are moderated before being posted. There will be a slight delay before your message appears.